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My Bristol: More than Banksy

October 30, 2020

reading time: 7 minutes

by Laura Gianesi, LGT

Bristol Street Art

Andrew Davies from LGT Vestra on the local art scene, hot air balloons and the reason why the city is ten minutes behind.  

Trips are postponed, our wanderlust remains. We dive into the harbour city of Bristol – on a walking tour with Andrew Davies. Join us and find out why the city on the Avon is worth a visit.

"Bristol is a young city. I'm not only talking about its locals – though its universities certainly attract a fair amount of students who shape the image of Bristol's streets. Untypically for British cities, most of these young academics stay here after graduating – which is probably the best proof that this is a city that wins you over easily with its relaxed yet lively atmosphere. But Bristol is also a young city in another sense. 

The heart of the mediaeval town of Bristol used to lie between two rivers, Avon and Frome. Today, however, there is nothing to remind us of the houses and streets of the Middle Ages. Amazing sights such as the Old Dutch House, a large timber-framed building that dated back to 1676, are only known from black-and-white photographs. It was the Nazi Luftwaffe that destroyed the city during the Bristol Blitz. Because of its harbour and aeroplane company, Bristol was bombed six times between November 1940 and April 1941.

This is why, when walking through the centre today, you find lots of new, grey houses with flat roofs from the 1960s – not exactly a feast for the eyes. This destruction, however, enabled the birth of what Bristol is most famous for today: street art. 

The grey structures from the sixties serve as a canvas for modern, colourful and provocative artworks. The city may not boast with handsome medieval lanes like York, but this lack of historical beauty and venerable grandeur also gives Bristol a certain vibe of freedom and youth that it certainly knows to make full use of. 

There's Banksy, of course, who's the local pride and arguably the most famous son of the city. But it would be wrong to narrow down Bristol's lively art scene on that one name. The city is extremely free-thinking and open-minded. Whole streets like Nelson Street are full of street art from big names in the scene, such as Aryz, Nick Walker and Stik. You should also go to Gloucester Road, Bristol's longest road of independent shops.

There's no Tesco's, no Starbucks, no Prêt. Starbucks once planned to open a store, but people started protesting in the streets. International street artists are often found in Bedminster, where the Upfest, Europe's largest street art and graffiti festival, takes place. It's fair to say that Bristol is more known for its street art than the paintings in its museums – even though The Royal West of England Academy boasts beautiful paintings from artists from Southern England. 

I've never lived anywhere where there were so many festivals all the time. During summer, there's something to do each weekend – for example, in August, there's the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. The first British hot air balloon took off here in Bristol at College Green. That was in 1967. Since then, Bristol has been known as the hot air ballooning capital of the UK. Probably the most iconic part of the Fiesta is the Nightglow, when the balloons are inflated and glow in the dark to a soundtrack of music. There's also a harbour festival, a comedy festival, a food festival, a dance music festival… The list seems infinite. 

Famously, we're close to the Glastonbury festival. That's part of our culture too – the Monday after Glastonbury, the teachers don't even expect the kids to be at school. However, if you're looking for the big names of the music industry playing here in Bristol, you'll be disappointed. We miss an arena so we don't get the crowd-pleasers here. Instead, we've got a lively local band scene.

As I said in the beginning, it is a university city, but once these students move here, they don't want to leave. Bristol is Britain's second legal city and offers great career opportunities, which is why there's a well-worn path from London, which is only an hour's train ride away, down to Bristol. But it's not only due to career reasons that people stay: The lifestyle here is much more agreeable, it's not as stressful as in the capital, not as anonymous, not as noisy. With its 500'000 inhabitants, the professional scene is diverse, but also small enough for everyone to know everyone. As people who settle here usually stay, it's also extremely stable. Your friends and professional contacts are long-term investments, which is probably also why people here are so friendly.  

Additionally, Bristol is the gateway to Britain's holiday area: In the South-West, you find Devon and Cornwall, Dartmoor, Exmoor, the New Forest National Park… Within an hour's driving, you can basically find anything you want. This might also be why people say that things move a bit more slowly than in the capital. People are more relaxed. There's a clock here that perfectly illustrates this: The clock on the 18th-century Corn Exchange building has two minute hands – one for London, one for Bristol. The second one is ten minutes behind. This is not a mistake: Bristol used to have its own time zone, ten minutes behind London. The city only adopted the official time in 1852." 

All images: Sean Ebsworth Barnes, Ebsworth Ltd.

If you're going to Bristol, be sure to …

sing: "Unfinished Sympathy" by Massive Attack 
drink: Bristolians love their cider. In summer, people sit outside on the river bank, in the parks or at the harbour and have a glass or two.
say: "gurt lush" = really nice, great. "That cider is gurt lush." 
know: Banksy
spend a day like this: street art walking tour, shopping and lunch in Clifton, walk to the Avon Gorge, harbour ferry ride, pre-theatre dinner, theatre at the Bristol Old Vic, drinks at Milk Thistle 

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